The Wichita school district's $10 million technical education magnet high school program should be a first choice for students — not a back-up if college looks unlikely, administrators and business leaders told school board members Monday.
"It's a chance to redefine technical education in Wichita," said Jim Means, district director of career and technical education.
The program should offer career paths in four areas of emphasis: health science, information technology, manufacturing, and biotechnology and energy systems.
But technical education's change of image won't come easily, school leaders said.
"My concern is for parents who want their kids to go to four-year college, everything 'technical' is failure," board member Lynn Rogers said.
About $17 million of the $370 million bond issue voters approved in November was marked for technical education — $1 million for each of the district's seven comprehensive high schools and $10 million to develop a new magnet program with a tech ed focus. The technical education money was tacked on last year to the bond plan, originally priced at $350 million, without specifying where or what the magnet program would be.
A group of about three dozen school administrators, business leaders and college representatives have met three times since April to hash out general recommendations, which were presented Monday night.
Students should have to apply to the program, as they do to magnet programs, according to the recommendations. But instead of the typical random selection system, the program should require students to meet unspecified qualifications before being accepted. Requirements could include academic record, Means said.
The task force wanted to ensure students wouldn't have to give up opportunities offered at comprehensive high schools, such as Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular activities.
The program would likely be a four-year program, with freshmen taking exploratory courses before deciding on one of the four career paths. Whether students could transfer into the program after freshman year is uncertain.
The most affordable options for the program would be to renovate part of an existing high school or possibly add the program's space to one of the two new high schools in the bond plan, school leaders said.
Administrators said they are aiming for the program to open in five years at the earliest, with an estimated 200 students. The timeline will depend largely on where the program is placed, administrators said.